The scene is enough to make any arachnophobe break out in a cold sweat: a huge spider's web floating in the wind and covering the edge of a road as far as the eye can see. The video was filmed by an Australian woman living in the Gippsland region of Victoria. And she is not the only one to have observed such a phenomenon.
In the last few days, images sprang up on social networks. Some show similar gigantic webs covering entire plots of land and trees. Others show millions of spiders of various shapes and sizes swarming on silk, branches or even poles.
A fairly common behaviour
Although the phenomenon is impressive to behold, it is relatively common in Australia. And its cause is fairly simple. Last week, the state of Victoria experienced heavy rains that triggered flash floods and forced the evacuation of residents in several areas.
And it wasn't just humans who fled the rising waters. Spiders hiding under leafy beds and in the ground had to do the same. When such a situation arises, they have to evacuate as quickly as possible and often come out of their hiding places in their hundreds or thousands.
To speed up the movement, the spiders are able to use their own silk and send threads up into the air so that they are carried away by the wind and are able to travel up to a safe place. This aerial locomotion behaviour is called 'ballooning.'
When thousands of these spiders use the same process, it can create huge floating expanses, such as those observed in several places in Gippsland. In this case, the spiders in question are members of the Stiphidiidae family.
University of Sydney ecologist Dieter Hochuli confirmed to 7 News:
When these types of intense rains and floods occur, these animals that spend their time quietly in the ground can no longer live there, and do exactly what we're trying to do—move higher up
Essential for the environment
The scale of the phenomenon confirms that tens of thousands or even millions of spiders are hiding in the soil of the Australian region (or under your home). However, there is no need to worry about this, as specialists have pointed out. Their presence is in fact essential to their environment.
Dr Lizzy Lowe of Macquarie University explained in an article published on The Conversation:
These spiders make a big contribution to pest control and you'd be in serious trouble if you got rid of all the spiders
Since the situation was not dangerous, she urged people not to use insecticides or other products to chase the arthropods away. 'They will disperse on their own very quickly' and return to their hiding place, she said.
As for the webs, they won't last very long either and will probably be blown away within a few days.